The world Rohingya community on Thursday blasted Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi statements at an international court seeking to defend the military's crimes against minority Muslims in Northern Rakhine state.
While the world is demanding justice for the Rohingya, who faced a brutal military crackdown in 2017, State Counsellor Suu Kyi, a 1991 Nobel peace laureate, defended the military at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Wednesday, undermining her claim to the prize.
Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel for campaigning for democracy and peace, but since coming to power, she has not lived up to the prize’s prestige, say activists.
“Aung Suu Kyi denying the genocide of Rohingya at the world’s highest court now officially amounts to her support to the Myanmar military for crimes against humanity,” Nay San Lwin, a Rohingya activist, told Anadolu Agency on Thursday.
Lwin left his home in Rakhine state in Myanmar in 2001 and is now based in Germany, where he co-founded the Free Rohingya Coalition.
He condemned the former rights defender Suu Kyi, who has faced massive criticism for her silence on Rohingya killings, mass rapes, and destruction of their property.
“The height of the denial is that Aung Suu Kyi refused to take our ethnic name -- Rohingya,” he said.
Lwin demanded that Suu Kyi’s Nobel prize be "immediately revoked."
"It is first time in the world history a Nobel peace prize winner has defended murders committed by criminals," he said. "It is an insult to all Nobel laureates."
Lwin, however, said the community members were happy and thankful to West African country Gambia for making an “emphatic case at the ICJ."
“The presentation made by Gambia at the ICJ was detailed and included all evidence, which has raised our expectations from the ICJ,” he added.
He cast doubt on Suu Kyi calling the genocide of Rohingya an “internal conflict,” saying: “Even if Myanmar’s military responded to the separatist Arakan Army in 2017 as claimed by Suu Kyi, the genocide of Rohingya did not start in 2017. It has been happening for many decades.”
In her statement before the ICJ, Suu Kyi said: “Although the focus here is on members of the military, I can assure you that appropriate action will be taken against civilian offenders, in line with the due process.”
"Myanmar military responded to an internal conflict in 2017," she said, referring to the operation launched against the Rohingya by Myanmar’s army. Nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims were killed in the operation, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
A UN fact-finding mission earlier this year said the genocide threat for Rohingya in Myanmar now is greater than ever.
"Many of the conditions that led to killings, rapes and gang rapes, torture, forced displacement and other grave rights violations by the country’s military that prompted some 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017, are still present," said the report of independent UN investigators, which was submitted to the UN secretary-general as well.
UN team finds ‘grave crimes’
“How many more Rohingya people does Aung Suu Kyi need to kill to call it genocide?” asked Mohammed Rafique, who lives in Ireland and is part of the European Rohingya Council.
Gambia filed a lawsuit against Myanmar at the ICJ asking the court to halt the ongoing genocide of Rohingya in Myanmar, an impoverished, majority-Buddhist southeast Asian nation.
Rafique said that the community was disappointed as the “icon of democracy has fallen.”
“People who once fought for rights of Suu Kyi when she was under house arrest were part of our protests outside the ICJ in The Hague, decrying her silence and denial of genocide,” Rafique told Anadolu Agency over the phone from the Netherlands.
A UN fact-finding mission found that "the gravest crimes under international law" had been committed in Myanmar. The UN team called for genocide trials.
The ICJ started hearing the case on Tuesday, with Gambia calling for the ICJ to step in and ask Myanmar to stop the killings of Rohingya.
The next day, Suu Kyi denied that Myanmar had committed genocide and insisted that any violation of rights of any community should be investigated by Myanmar’s courts.
She did not mention the Rohingya by name, although she seemingly acknowledged the “suffering” of the community.
Rafique said more than 200 people took part in protests at the court, including people from Turkey, Bangladesh, Canada, Ireland, Australia, and the U.S.
“It is disgusting that people still call her an icon of democracy,” he said.
He claimed while Suu Kyi was speaking at the ICJ, “19 Rohingya people were arrested in Myanmar and sent to jail.”
Gambia: Myanmar violated 1948 genocide convention
Gambia argued that Myanmar violated the 1948 Geneva convention on the prevention of genocide. Myanmar is a signatory to the convention.
“The basic demand of Gambia is to stop the ongoing genocide by Myanmar and give justice to the Rohingya,” said Hla Kyaw, the European Rohingya Council chair.
“[Since] Myanmar is a signatory to the genocide convention, therefore, [any] ICJ ruling is binding on Myanmar,” he said.
Kyaw claimed “a lot of sanctions [on Myanmar] are on the way.”
A day ahead of the first ICJ hearing, the U.S. on Tuesday imposed sanctions against Myanmar army chief Min Aung Hlaing and three other senior commanders over the killings.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said of the sanctions: "The United States will not tolerate torture, kidnapping, sexual violence, murder or brutality against innocent civilians."
“Gambia’s initiative is courageous, and praiseworthy. We are really grateful to Gambia. Other countries must support Gambia,” Kyaw said, decrying how the Rohingya’s Muslim identity is being used as a tool to deny them justice.
“If we were Christian, the West would have intervened,” he said.
However, he sounded optimistic about the ICJ trial: “We believe this is a positive development. The Rohingya will get justice at the end of the day. The genocide against Rohingya is the truth. Ultimately truth will prevail.”
- 'Suu Kyi mocked the whole world'
For Imran Mohammed, a Rohingya activist based in Malaysia, Suu Kyi defending Myanmar from accusations of genocide amounts to "mocking the entire world!"
Decrying Suu Kyi ignoring “those unspeakable heinous crimes being committed by military before her eyes,” he told Anadolu Agency her trying to fool the court was “disgraceful."
"It is a shame for her award,” the Nobel Peace Prize, he added.
Mohammed 's parents left Rakhine in 1992 when he was 2. They lived in Bangladesh until a week before the mass atrocities against the Rohingya started in 2017. Now, they live in the Penang province of the country, along with some 100,000 other Rohingya refugees.
- Persecuted people
According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, pushing the number of persecuted people in Bangladesh above 1.2 million.
More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report titled Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience.
Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.
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